Tiffany lamps are a style of lamp originally crafted and made famous by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Louis Tiffany was the eldest son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, famous owner of the jewelry firm, Tiffany and Co., whose clients included presidents and Queen Victoria of England.
Louis Tiffany refused to follow in his father's footsteps. Instead he became a painter, well known for his oils and watercolor. Louis Tiffany also loved to travel, and his travels influenced his artwork, particularly when he took an interest in medieval glass. This interest in glass making worked into another new interest of Tiffany's: interior design. Tiffany's goal was to raise and popularize the status of decorative arts to that of fine arts, and he quickly made a name for himself decorating not only the White House but the houses of Mark Twain, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Tiffany's interior designs featured his new passion -- beautifully crafted stained-glass windows.
Tiffany founded his own company in 1885, focusing on glassmaking techniques that allowed colors and hues that had not been seen in glass to that point. Around the same time, Tiffany was working with Thomas Edison to light the first movie theater, the Lyceum. Edison's new invention of the filament bulb created a spark in Tiffany. He could produce his exquisite stained-glass windows in miniature form to serve as lampshades for a filament bulb that would illuminate the stained glass, night or day. The Tiffany lamp was born.
Tiffany lamps were produced from 1885-1920, characterized by ornate bronze bases and unique one-of-kind stained-glass shades. By the time Tiffany died in 1933 the popularity of the lamps had declined, as artistic tastes had changed and the lamps were viewed as gaudy. However, in 1958 Tiffany's lamps again became popular with a retrospective show that brought his work back to the attention of museums and collectors. Today an original Tiffany lamp sells for over 2 million U.S. dollars.
The Tiffany lamps available in department stores are Tiffany-style lamps. Tiffany-style lamps normally have a polished brass base and ornate shade composed of many pieces of colored glass in various shapes and sizes. Some shades are random-patterned while others have distinct designs.
Tiffany-style lamps are so popular that even the reproduction has its own inexpensive knock-offs made of imitation glass in the form of colored plastic. We can only imagine what Louis Tiffany would think of this, but the fact that the lamp has endured for over a century is testament to the man who desired to bring beauty into the homes of people everywhere.